November 19, 1999
Seated elbow to elbow next to Michael Flynn at Rotary the other day, our conversation drifted aimlessly for a while until Michael discovered that the piece of cake he had chosen for dessert was a tad dry. "I can't eat dry cake, he said, and went back to the buffet to seek something a little fresher. I said dry cake was probably like day-old bread, which many of us senior citizens learned to love by growing up on it during the depression years. No, he said, he really prefers dry bread as opposed to the moister, fresher kind, but cake is another matter. No great revelation, but it brought to mind how we all differ on certain likes and dislikes. It also took me back to another age.
When I was growing up we closed our family business, the City Drug Store, on the north side of the square, at 11:30 each night. There were times when I was the last to leave. Besides turning out the lights and locking the door, the ritual included telephoning an order for several calorie-laden, exotic flavors of ice cream to the Crystal Ice Cream plant in Oklahoma City for delivery by railroad freight early the next morning. That chore, plus the fairly late hour and other factors, usually made me think that I needed a bedtime snack. One of the "other factors" was the delightful, unforgettable aroma of fresh bread being brought out of the oven at Oscar Johnson's Betty Anne Bakery at 411 Seventh street, where Perry's Radio Shack store is now located. That was just a few steps from our drug store. Any late evening breeze from the north carried those unmistakable fragrances wafting abroad to tantalize the nostrils of anyone lucky enough to be there at the right time.
Those distinctive and unique scents -- nothing comes close to the fragrance of fresh bread -- were simply too excruciating to overcome. So, I invariably paid an after-hours visit to the Betty Anne Bakery through the alley door and purchased one loaf of still-hot, unsliced bread fresh from Mr. Johnson's oven. More often than not on weekend nights, some of my high school friends gathered at the drug store to read our magazines, listen to our radio, check out the couples walking home from a movie at the Annex or Roxy Theater, and just generally spend a carefree evening without costing them a dime. The retinue usually included Ross Johnson, Hal Groom, Bob Munger, Clifford Haughawout, Bill Rutledge and Wallace McFarland, plus one or two others from time to time.
Ross usually liked something to go with his hot bread, which we tore off in big chunks, so he often brought a can of green peas from J.L. Barge's Grocery Store, next door to the drug store, plus a small stick of butter from his mother's kitchen. We cut the lid off the can and heated the peas in a device at the soda fountain, where hot fudge topping was usually stored to be served on ice cream concoctions. Was it good? Just the thought of it today makes my nose quiver in anticipation.
Unfortunately for all of us, Perry no longer has a bakery, and only a few home kitchens are blessed by those hot bread fragrances. I wonder if the Radio Shack Store ever detects a ghostly but appetizing aroma from out of the past? Oscar Johnson and the Betty Anne spoiled me for anything less than the wonderful wares that once came from that building.